Psychologists have elucidated how moral and personality development occur throughout one’s lifespan. Lawrence Kohlberg and Erik Erickson are such psychologists who have contributed to the development of psychological theories that explicate moral and personality development respectively. In moral development theory, Lawrence Kohlberg asserts that, moral development occurs sequentially across all ages in six stages. The six stages of moral development occur in three levels: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional.
In personality development, Erik Erikson asserts that personality development emanates from innate characteristics that sequentially develop through eight stages under the influence of society and culture. According to Boeree (2006), Erik Erikson, a proponent of Freud’s psychosexual development theory, has expanded the theory by incorporating the concept of epigenetic, society, and culture when formulating his psychosocial theory (p.6). Kohlberg and Erikson agree that, moral and personality development occur sequentially in that, preceding stages form the basis for development of subsequent stages. Therefore, this essay develops personal portrait of how moral and personality development occurred in the past 31 years of my life relative to the aforementioned developmental theories of Kohlberg and Erikson.
It is an oral sensory stage of personality development, which occurs within the first two years of an infant. At this stage, an infant experiences psychosocial crisis between trust and mistrust in which its resolution depends on quality of the maternal care. Proper resolution of trust and mistrust by the ego results into virtues of faith and hope, which give the infant qualities of patience and tolerance when needs are not satisfied in time. Improper resolution of trust and mistrust by the ego results into mal-adaptation and malignancy. Too much maternal care results into mal-adaptation of sensory mal-adjustment where an infant develops too much trust. On the other hand, Boeree (2006) argues that poor maternal care results into malignancy of withdrawal where an infant develops mistrust, depression, and psychosis in life (p.7). Comparatively, moral development theory by Kohlberg suggests that moral reasoning of an infant is in the first stage of pre-conventional level, where obedience and selfish interests predominate.
For my case, since resolution of psychosocial crisis at this stage depends on quality of maternal care, I did receive poor maternal care because my mother abused drugs and did not have ample time to satisfy my needs in time. Poor maternal care predisposed me to malignancy of withdrawal that has made me develop mistrust and depression in life, for I am still longing to find out why my parents suffered from mental instabilities that deprived me of good parental care. Crandell, Crandell, and Zanden (2009), argue that virtues of hope and faith are important in shaping future personalities, for they enable people to gain endurance in family, careers, and other aspects of life (p.213). In my case, I became tired of working at Major Tobacco Company because I lacked endurance in life due to poor resolution of psychosocial crisis of trust versus mistrust. According to moral development theory, children obey rules to avoid punishment and obtain favor from parents. Although my parents abused drugs, I struggled hard to become obedient and win their confidence.
The Toddler Stage
The toddler phase is the second stage that occurs between the ages of 2-4 years of a child. A child at this stage experiences psychosocial crisis of self-sufficiency versus ignominy and incertitude that depend on the degree of restrictions imposed on a toddler by parents. The toddler needs a balance between autonomy and shame and doubt. Therefore, the ego must resolve the psychosocial crisis appropriately. According Hoare (2002), proper resolution of psychosocial crisis, of autonomy versus shame and doubt, results into a virtue of determination and or willpower (p.221). Little or no restriction of a toddler results into mal-adaptation of impulsiveness where a toddler develops a personality of shameless and overconfidence, which leads one to become over ambitious in adulthood. On the contrary, too much restriction of the toddler results into malignancy of compulsiveness where the toddler loses self-esteem becoming dependent on rules and regulations to do things perfectly. This stage falls under the second stage of moral development in pre-conventional level where children strictly obey rules, for they fear punishment.
Since my parents abused drugs, they did not give me enough freedom to do what I wanted. Therefore, the resolution of psychosocial crisis of autonomy versus shame and doubt led to malignancy of compulsiveness. Due to malignancy of compulsiveness, I lost self-esteem and became dependent on rules that my parents imposed into my life. My relationship with parents depended on obedience to their rules. From Kohlberg theory of moral development, obedience to rules is a characteristic of the second stage of moral reasoning at pre-conventional level. DeLuca (2011) argues that at the second stage of pre-conventional level, children obey rules, not only to satisfy their parents’ interests, but also to avoid punishment (p.3). Thus, at the ages of 2-4 years, I developed compulsive personality and relied on rules to have a good relationship with my parents.
This stage occurs at the ages of 4-6 years where individuation and differentiation starts. The psychosocial crisis is between initiative and guilt occurring at the social environment of family. Karcher and Benne (2007) argue that virtues of purpose and courage result when the ego resolves and balances the psychosocial crisis between initiative and guilt (p.209). The virtues of purpose and courage are very important in developing responsible personality that cares for others. If the child has too much initiative, it results into mal-adaptation of ruthlessness where a person becomes very selfishly in life by not considering the interests of others. On the other hand, too much guilt results into malignancy of inhibition. The inhibited person becomes reserved and rigid, never to propose anything that is worth in life or in the society. Moreover, at this stage, children develop the capacity of moral judgment for they are able to differentiate the right from the wrong based on family and societal norms.
At this stage, I managed to have a proper resolution of psychosocial crisis of initiative versus guilt. As a result, I achieved the virtues of purpose and courage. Virtues of purpose and courage enabled me to face the reality in our family, which pushed me to work hard to make essential changes in the family and society as a responsible member. This is evident because I was an active and industrious student. Currently, I am pursuing graduate course in psychology so that I can become a counselor who helps adults who have lost their parents to suicide during their childhood understanding family dynamics that led my parents to abuse drugs. DeLuca (2011) explains that, at the third stage of moral development in conventional level, children begin to show concern on matters of morality, as they want to become good children (p.4). Given that children at this stage develop moral capacity to assess morality, I was able to recognize that my parents had problems, for they did not behave like other parents in the neighborhood and thus I purposed to pursue my career in the field of mental health to understand mental issues.
This is the fourth stage in psychosocial development that it occurs between the ages of 7-12 years. The psychosocial crisis here is industry versus inferiority that occurs in the context of community and school. Boeree (2006) states that at this stage, the balance between industry and inferiority results into the virtue of competence (p.10). The mal-adaptation of industry results into a narrow virtuosity characterized by the narrowness of the mind and interests, hence making people mere actors of their real characters in the society. The malignancy of inferiority that occurs at this stage is inertia where one becomes inactive in the society due to the feeling of inferiority complex. Therefore, the inactiveness results into poor socialization skills.
In my life, I was so industrious at this stage in that I failed to resolve the psychosocial crisis of industry versus inferiority because I did not receive any parental guidance. Poor resolution of the crisis later affected my career of choice because I settled for the Bachelor of Arts in Interpersonal Communication but had a passion in the field of health. Consistent with moral development theory, I followed school rules to the letter for I wanted to be a good student. DeLuca (2011) asserts that respect for authority is a priority of the fourth stage of moral development (p.4). Thus, mal-adaptation of narrow virtuosity and obedience to authority formed the basis of my personality and morality.
This is the fifth stage occurring between the ages of 12-18 years. The psychosocial crisis is between ego identity and role confusion in the context of peer groups and role models. Karcher and Benne (2007) state that, the virtue of fidelity occurs when the ego resolves psychosocial crisis between ego identity and role confusion properly (p.211). Fidelity is important in making people conform to the requirements of family, learning institutions, and society. The anomaly resulting from psychosocial crisis resolution is the identity crisis such as too much of the role confusion, which results into malignancy of repudiation where one becomes alienated from mainstream society getting involved with vices in the society. On the other hand, excess of the ego identity results into mal-adaption of fanaticism that makes one nurture infallible interests without considering the views of others.
Friends and society enabled me to resolve psychosocial crisis of ego identity and role confusion leading to the development of the virtue of fidelity. Boeree (200) asserts that fidelity enables one to live according to societal rules and norms (p.11). Living according to societal rules and norms is consistent with the fourth stage of moral reasoning that falls under conventional level. Obedience to school rules and societal norms enabled me to perform very well in high school pursuing my studies in college.
It is the sixth stage of personality development, which occurs between the ages of 18-30 years. The psychosocial crisis here is intimacy versus isolation that occurs in the context of friends and partners. Karcher and Benne (2007) argue that if the psychosocial crises are resolved and balanced very well, one achieves virtue of love (p.212). The virtue of love is what makes people have healthy relationships with their friends, partners, families, community, and the entire society. The mal-adaptation at this stage is promiscuity, which causes loose behavior in young adult, while malignancy is the exclusion of one from relationships.
In my case, I did not resolve the psychosocial crisis of intimacy versus isolation properly leading to malignancy of exclusion. Boeree (2006) argues that exclusion is a malignancy tendency of isolating oneself from love, partners, and friends (p.12). That is why I was never married at the age of thirty years because I isolated myself from love, partners, and friends. On moral perspective, I perceive marriage as a social contract that depends on an individual’s decision on when and who to get married. Thus, such perception of marriage is at post-conventional level of moral reasoning falling under the fifth stage.
Theories of personality and moral development by Erik Erikson and Kohlberg Lawrence respectively elucidate how human development occurs sequentially from infancy into adulthood under the influence of cultural, environmental and various societal factors. These theories are very important in explaining personalities and behaviors that people have based on their life’s experiences. Fundamentally, development of personality and morality is dependent on resolution of various psychosocial crises across all stages. The virtues and anomalies that emanate from resolution of crises determine the personalities and moralities that people uphold in the society. In my case, I have realized that experiences that I have undergone during the last 31 years have cumulatively influenced my personality and morality.
Boeree, G. (2006). Erik Erikson: Personality Theories. Psychology Department Shippensburg University, 1-17.
Crandell, T., Crandell, C., & Zanden, J. (2009). Human Development (9th Ed.) New York: McGraw Hill.
DeLuca, J. (2011). Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development: Theory Synthesis. Bridgewater State University, 1-13.
Hoare, C. (2002). Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers. New York: Oxford University Press.
Karcher, M., & Benne, K. (2007). Erik and Joan Erikson’s Approach to Human Development. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 82 (2), pp. 199-228.